To Fight or Not To Fight: Is That The Real Question?

Former UFC light heavyweight championHindsight and heavy scrutiny makes planning a career path a daunting challenge

If only it were as simple as saying yes or no.

Tuesday’s news that unbeaten light heavyweight Phil Davis was injured and forced to withdraw from his impending main event meeting with Rashad Evans at UFC 133 thrust the decision making process of fighters under the microscope.

With each name presented as a possible replacement, opinions poured in about whether or not that specific fighter should take the opportunity. Evans’ decision to sit out Shogun Rua‘s knee injury resurfaced as well. Fans and media alike lined up to cast their votes and voice their feelings on Evans, Tito Ortiz and Lyoto Machida, the three men predominantly featured in the fallout.

It’s easy for us to sit on the sidelines and talk about Ortiz or Machida taking the fight on three weeks notice. As sound as we think our logic may be, we’re not the ones who really have to weigh all the options. We’re not the ones who have to think through all the possible scenarios. And we’re not the ones who have to step in the cage.

It’s not a simple process, and it’s not as easy as simply saying yes or no.

On the surface, this appears to be a win-win situation for Ortiz. Fresh off a career-saving win over Ryan Bader, stepping up on short notice to face Evans three weeks from now in Philadelphia sounds like a good idea. Though he’s still in the UFC, Ortiz is not “in the mix” as of yet, so a short notice loss when you’re doing the company a solid shouldn’t have much of an adverse effect. A win, on the other hand, would propel Ortiz into back into title contention. Why wouldn’t he jump at the opportunity?

There are plenty of answers to that question.

Maybe he’s already bulked back up in the two weeks since his win over Bader. Maybe he doesn’t feel three weeks is enough time to adequately prepare for a bout with the top contender in the division. Maybe he wants to do everything he can to maintain his momentum coming out of UFC 132; a loss may not damage his standing, but it definitely slows his roll.

All the same reasons apply to Machida, who was erroneously reported as the replacement at various points between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. In addition, while a loss may not do much damage to Ortiz’s standing, it would change things dramatically for Machida. As it stands, the former champion is a part of the title conversation, and a loss pushes him out of that Google+ Hangout. The fact that he’s beaten Evans once already doesn’t mean he can do it again on three weeks’ notice.

More than Ortiz and Machida, Evans is the one being second-guessed and skewered even though he’s the only one of the three ready to step into the cage.

To some, this is a karmic event – Evans is getting another serving of universal comeuppance for choosing to wait for his title shot rather than fight Randy Couture while Rua recovered from knee surgery.

While Evans’ knee injury scores a 9.3 on The Shakespeare Scale of Irony, fighting between facing Quinton Jackson at UFC 114 and facing Rua at UFC 128 wouldn’t have taken the potential for injury off the table. These things happen. Besides, had he fought and lost in the interim, Evans wouldn’t have been counting down to a championship bout, and we’d be questioning his decision to fight instead of wait things out.

When a season of The Ultimate Fighter puts ten months between a title fight, the coaches aren’t called out for taking up their positions on Spike TV, so why is Evans’ decision to wait for a title shot any different? While it’s become a 14-month hiatus, he was planning on fighting in March, ten months after his win at UFC 114.

Our desire to see fighters compete clouds our logic, and our position outside of the cage keeps some of the complex decisions involved in these situations in the shadows. We lose sight of the fact that this is Evans’ job and that the pay checks he receives three or four times a year are impacted a great deal by where he sits on the fight card and the outcome of his time in the cage. While this is entertainment for the masses, it’s work for the fighters, and they’re just trying to do what they think is best for their careers.

That’s what Evans did in deciding to wait for Rua, just as Ortiz and Machida have done by declining to face him in three weeks. It hasn’t gone according to Hoyle – far from it — but not all of it traces back to his choice to sit and wait.

Getting injured and missing his championship shot was the end of the line; the final ironic outcome of his decision to wait. Everything since then plays well in hindsight, but there is no cause-and-effect connection; Jon Jones and Davis pulling out has nothing to do with Evans not fighting between May and March. While it adds spice to his current situation, one is not the result of the other.

We’ve all mulled over job offers; tried to find the best fit, maximize our earning potential or the quickest road to the top. Maybe we’ve done all three. The decision was never as easy as yes or no, and it wasn’t up for public debate and scrutiny.

Accepting a fight is the exact same thing, except no matter what a fighter decides, there rarely seems to be a right choice.

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